Apr 21, 2008

journaling solves everything: an exercise in point-of-view

Thought of this over the weekend, and tried it in my Creative Writing class with decent success. It's good for intermediate to advanced students who are already somewhat in control of narrative--for example, if they're already using flashbacks or multiple narrators, this is for them.

Journaling Solves Everything

Step One: The Diary Begins.

Have students start by writing "Dear Diary," and going from there in a typical first-person perspective.
Dear Diary,
Today I met with Mr. Beens, my guidance counselor, who suggested I lower my expectations. Harvard won't take a three-sport athlete with a sub-3.0 GPA, he said. I told him that I know they're selective, but that my dad just bought a cyclotron for the physics lab, and that oughtta boost my admin index by at least a few points. When he asked what a cyclotron was, I said, kidding. My dad installs mufflers at Midas. Mr. Beens got pretty mad.

I saw Jenna in the hall today, making out with that loser Kenny. They were hanging all over each other outside Ms. Carlstad's class. Ever since I dumped her she's been going from guy to guy like a...
Have this continue for about 5-7 minutes. Then say "Stop." We're ready for the next step.

Step Two: The Real World Intrudes.

Wherever they are in their piece, students halt, either with a period or a long dash, signifying an interruption. They skip a line and write their name (or a pronoun), and follow it with "stopped writing." Their next task: explain why, and build to a conflict.
Chris stopped writing. His mom was perched at the door, holding the phone. "It's for you," she said. "Police."

Chris's face blanched except for a red patch on his forehead, which throbbed crimson. "I don't know--"

"Take it," his mom snapped. She threw him the phone and stormed downstairs.

Chris's hand shook as he cradled the phone, hearing the mechanical voice on the other end. Mr. Mondale, this is Detective Hall. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about something that happened at school. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Chris nodded stupidly, then realized he was on the phone, and stammered, "Y-yeah."

He's in a coma, said the detective's disembodied voice. Your friend John is down here at the station, in Booking. You wanna tell me what happened?...
This should take about 10 minutes. Then we're ready for the last step.

Step Three: The Diary Solves It

In this last step, the student links what's in the diary entry to the conflict, finding a potential (or actual) solution.
Chris's mind wheeled. He realized it wasn't John at all who pushed Tyler off the bleachers in the chaos of gym class. It was Kenny--it had to have been Kenny. Hadn't Tyler been dating her just a week ago? Hadn't Kenny told Tyler to f--- off and find someone else? Chris's hazy memory sharpened as the scene replayed...
This exercise has several benefits:

1. It gets students writing in multiple points-of-view, and able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
2. It immediately increases the sophistication of the narrative, and opens up a new option for intermediate writers.
3. It's fun.
4. It leads to new story ideas based on their own lives, since you start them off by writing about themselves.
5. Since they end up writing about themselves in the third person, it increases self-reflection and and is almost therapeutic.

I think I'll try it again with another group of seniors, and see if it turns out as well.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Hi, my Web site, http://www.sunflowersky.com
is being used in a NY school for journaling. Each student creates their own journal and writes in it. What you're saying is very true. If you'd like to try out my site for free, just let me know and I can give you and your class a free year of using it. Please use the contact form on the site. Cheers,